Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ramen Tatsuya South Lamar - Restaurant Review

I realize that a ton of you out there love this place, and that it's been named one of the top ramen restaurant in the US. I'll probably get a lot of grief for this review, but here goes.

This is the third time I've been to a Ramen Tatsuya location, and the second time I've tried this location. Let's recap:

Visit #1: North Austin on Research

This visit truly underwhelmed me, and I had been so excited to go. First of all, the service was weird. We went just as the restaurant opened, and the host assigned us, in an empty restaurant, to the 2-top just inside the front door. It was January and cold outside. I asked that we be able to sit at any table away from the door. He said he wasn't sure (we were the only customers at the time), but as soon as another couple walked in, he sent us to a table in the corner against the window and the other couple ended up sitting at the table he originally assigned to us.

I ordered the Tonkotsu Original (~$10 to $11), and we received our food fairly quickly. The broth was so salty that I just couldn't enjoy it! I did my best to eat the solid ingredients, but had to leave the liquid. As ramen aficionados know, the broth is what makes or breaks a bowl of ramen. This bowl was definitely broken.

Visit #2: South Lamar

My sister and I decided to try the new south location as soon as it opened. She had never been to RT before, and I thought the new location might prepare its ramen differently.

Again, the service was so weird and unwelcoming. I was a few minutes late, and again it was cold. The host had my sister waiting outside in the cold even though there was no line. NO LINE! How's that for hospitality? Apparently your entire party has to arrive before they let you in the door. Frustrating, especially when the weather isn't great out.

We ordered, and again I tried the Tonkotsu Original. Again, it was way too salty. Strike #2. Additionally, we were assigned to the communal table in the middle, but we saw a sign that basically indicated that since there was usually a line of diners waiting, we should not dawdle over our ramen but finish quickly and leave to make room for more guests. This was certainly the wrong restaurant for planning a sisters' night out. We were in and out in 30 minutes, and we found a second location to finish our sister date.

Visit #3: South Lamar

This final visit to RT was entirely my fault. I was craving ramen, but needed to be at work at 1pm on a Sunday, so I didn't want to have to drive all the way north to Kanji or Jinya for lunch. Again, I met my sister at RT South Lamar, which is close to my workplace. She was surprised I would want to try it again after our last experience, but at least a year had passed and I was willing to give it another go.

The service was much better this time - everyone was very friendly, and they apologized for keeping us outside for an additional 10-15 minutes while they attempted to fix a printer issue before opening. We also didn't feel rushed, although we only spent 40 minutes there in total.

This time I ordered the Ol' Skool (see photo above), which comes with chicken shoyu broth instead of pork bone broth - I thought it might be less salty than my previous two attempts. Wow, this broth was not salty enough! In addition to that, it was extremely oily, and the diced raw onions and the pickled bamboo completely overwhelmed the flavors of the rest of the dish. The egg was perfectly cooked, and was my favorite part of the bowl. I also liked the texture of the noodles. However, I was underwhelmed again. No salt or soy sauce on the table to amend my dish. I left unsatisfied. Strike #3. I highly doubt I'll ever be back again.

About ramen in general
I am a ramen expert, and I sincerely mean that. I grew up in Hawai'i with ramen galore, and have eaten ramen all over the world, including in Japan (in literally every city I visited there, multiple times). I can make a decent ramen at home, but I do prefer a really well-made ramen at a restaurant because it does take a ton of prep. I LOVE RAMEN, and I know a good one when I eat it. RT doesn't cut it for me.

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